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How I'm Rolling Past Insecurities as a Power Wheelchair User

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Before I got my current wheelchair, I had to rely on other people to push me around, since my arm weakness made it very difficult to push a manual chair on my own. So, naturally, I was very excited to get a power wheelchair, because I knew how much comfort and independence it’d give me.

When I first sat in it and drove it around a bit, it immediately felt like my chair, which was an amazing feeling. But that excitement, that pride in my fancy mobility aid eventually faded, and when I got to college, it actually began to disgust me. I felt self-conscious and embarrassed every time I journeyed from my dorm to class or every time I moved with food on my lap in the dining hall, especially if I was alone (which was most of the time). You’d think that the stares, ignorant comments and condescending smiles would become less bothersome as time went on, but for me it was the opposite. After a while, those things became so infuriating and really, really got to me. At some point, I couldn’t stand it; the able-bodied college students surrounding me made me feel like such an outcast.

I felt more “different” than ever before in my life, and that made me feel so incredibly insecure about my disability. I quickly became obsessed with “really” walking again (not just the short distances I can already do), and I was frustrated when those attempts failed. I thought I needed to walk “normally,” because it felt like that chair was suffocating me more and more every second I spent sitting in it.

But look at these pictures. I took these pictures with one of my best friends, Sarah Todd, who’s like a little sister to me and also happens to have my same condition: transverse myelitis. These pictures were captured during a photo-shoot in the city, and though I initially wanted for my chair to be absent from every picture, I’m glad that that didn’t end up being the case, because… Looking at these pictures, I don’t see a piece of junk I’m chained to or a burden that doesn’t like to fit in people’s cars and draws the attention of every passerby. No, it’s utilized in a nice way. It’s part of the pictures, a part that actually made them better and even more adorable than I could ever have imagined.

Walking is overrated. Yes, people stare and are generally super annoying and ignorant. Yes, my chair can be horribly inconvenient at times. But it’s a part of me. Though I’d love to recover more, I now realize that walking (…and running…) isn’t the end-all-be-all.

So thank you, ST, for suggesting these amazing, adorable poses. And thank you to our photographer for not being scared to make sure we utilized that chair. Thank you for incorporating it as a fun, important prop that belongs in the picture, rather than an obstacle to be ignored and avoided. I needed that reminder.

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Photo by Danielle in Chicago for Flytographer.

Originally published: July 3, 2017
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